The University of Aberdeen wanted to replace an outdated e-mail system to better facilitate and reflect the way students work and interact online. Microsoft® Live@edu provided the functionality and administrative features vital in an education setting while preserving the university’s reputation as a technologically advanced education and research institution. In addition, student use of the university system increased by more than 100 per cent.
Founded in 1495, the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, has a long history of excellence in science and technology. In fact, four Nobel prizes have been awarded for work carried out there. The university has provided e-mail services to students for at least 20 years. But the application used for the past 10 years was at the end of its life cycle. Student e-mail addresses were awkward and difficult to remember. Mailboxes for the Web-based e-mail were too small to hold many messages and students could not send or receive large attachments. The address book was limited and the application did not include calendaring or any collaborative features.
Overall use of this e-mail system reflected its limitations. By 2008, less than 35 per cent of the 14,500 students on campus used their university e-mail. Brian Henderson, Head of Service Delivery at the University of Aberdeen, says:
||The new student mail service is easy to use, and I can customise it much more than the last mail system.
University of Aberdeen
“We couldn’t be confident that we could quickly and effectively make contact with students.” Considering that university policy required a formal route of communication to notify students of emergencies, policy decisions, and general information, administrators needed to find a new solution. “In keeping with the university’s reputation as a technologically advanced education and research institution, we needed to improve the service we provided to the students, in keeping with expectations partly developed outside the university,” says Henderson.
According to Henderson, students’ online experiences are often shaped by external interactive applications such as Facebook and Twitter, as are their expectations of IT services. “To fulfil student expectations, we needed to provide those types of collaborative services as well as excellent core messaging functionality,” he says.
Administrators identified several possible options to replace their outdated e-mail system. However, Microsoft Live@edu, including the Microsoft Office Outlook® Live e-mail solution, was the best fit for the university’s needs. It offers features above and beyond e-mail that incorporate the tools students already use in their digital lives, such as instant messaging, collaboration, and online storage. It was also important to provide an advertisement-free environment. “Microsoft provided exactly what we needed,” says Henderson.
Microsoft was one of the early signatories to the EU Safe Harbour agreement, a data protection agreement between the United States and the European Union that allows the uninterrupted flow of personal information. As a further commitment to protecting customers’ data, Microsoft has implemented a regional data centre strategy, which means that for all European implementations data will remain inside European legislative boundaries—currently in Dublin. Mike Whyment, Project Manager at University of Aberdeen, says: “This strategy is critical to Aberdeen and how we made the decision—it ensures that there is no government access to e-mail without legal authority.”
Working with the Microsoft Exchange team and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Oxford Computer Group, Henderson and his colleagues implemented the system within eight weeks. All existing student e-mail accounts were moved over to the new system by August 2008. Whyment says: “It was important to have Live@edu in place in time for this academic year starting in 2008. If we couldn’t do that we would have had to wait for another 12 to 14 months.”
Now students can access their e-mail from any computer with an Internet connection. Live@edu integrates with the university’s Active Directory® service, the software system that stores, organises, and provides access to information needed to administer e-mail addresses. Administrators set up user-friendly e-mail addresses allowing students to choose their own address from a pre-populated list based on their first and last names, and year of entry. Once students have an e-mail address, they can keep it for life. Discussions are already underway with the university alumni section to provide this service for past graduates.
The provision of an excellent service that better reflects the way students interact online has already increased student use of e-mail by more than 100 per cent. It has opened up communication between staff and students and raised the profile of the university as a technologically savvy education and research institution that looks to the future while providing a safe and secure environment. David Morton, a law student at the University of Aberdeen, says: “The new student mail service is easy to use, and I can customise it much more than the last mail system. We also get a much bigger mailbox, a calendar so I won’t miss lectures, and an e-mail address that is not just a collection of letters and numbers.”
- Anytime, anywhere access. Students can use their e-mail from the university’s internal Web site at more than 1,000 computers on campus, or from any machine with an Internet connection.
- E-mail use increased by more than 100 per cent. Increased student usage of e-mail opens new channels of communication. “We can now be far more confident that the university can communicate with the students,” says Whyment.
- Good fit with student lifestyle. Collaboration and communication features are relevant to the way students use IT in a social and academic context. “Students love the new system. Even when they see members of staff off campus—for example, in the supermarket—students have approached them to say how good the new student mail offering is,” says Whyment.
- More features for less money. Implementing Live@edu provides all students with a robust and easy to use e-mail platform that has saved the university £60,000 so far. Implementation costs are significantly reduced so resources can be directed towards services that add more value.
- Safety and security protected. Microsoft’s regional data centre strategy for Office Outlook Live means that European customers’ data remains in Europe supporting EU safe harbour legislation.
- Creating a community for alumni. E-mail addresses that stay with students after graduation maintain their identity with their university. Henderson says: “Maintaining links with alumni is a good way for the university to potentially partner with industry for communication, research, and even fundraising activities.”
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Document published March 2009